"I am like you in that I read all the time, and don't read more books in the summer versus any other season. But there is definitely something I think of as 'beach reading,' which are those books I want ONLY when I'm on vacation—usually on the beach I spent every summer on as I grew up. My great-grandparents bought a house a long time ago, and the bookcases are full with each summer's beach reading: salty (and I mean that literally—we're a block from the ocean), dog-eared, tattered paperbacks, most of them romances and mysteries. My grandma loved mysteries, the higher the body count, the better. My mom loves romances and novels that feature glitz and glamour, like Danielle Steele, Judith Krantz, or Sidney Sheldon. I love contemporary comedies, and when I think of beach reading, I think specifically of those books. That's what I read when my feet are buried in the ocean and my chair is sinking into the sand the longer I sit."
First off, party at Cee's house!
But, oh, I so know what she means. I have specific memories of romances that I've read on the beach in south Jersey. One time, I was reading Nora Roberts' Rising Tides at the water's edge and wasn't paying attention to the surf at all. Sure enough, the tide rose up and a big wave soaked me, my book, my chair and my towel. I always associate that book with where I was when I read it—and how I had to pay the library for the ocean-damaged book later that week!
There are definitely places where my location influences the things that I read, almost as if place is as much a factor in my reading choice as preference. For example, if I go get a pedicure and bring my digital reader with me, I'm still more likely to pick up a weekly magazine like In Touch or People once I'm there. For one thing, I have a fear of dropping my reader in the water, and for another, the nail salon has multiple copies of everything. Magazines about celebrities, fashion, food and style are indelibly linked to getting my nails or my hair done. Or, perhaps more accurately said, when I'm in a salon, out of habit and expectation, that's what I want to read—even if I have 300 or more digital books with me.
Recently, at the Romantic Times Book Lovers' Convention, I was talking with some people who work in publishing about what books they like to buy. This is a peculiar conversation for publishing professionals to have because they get free books all the time. There are books everywhere, and if their house doesn't publish something, they can often get a copy from a friend or colleague. Free books are a unilateral perk of working in publishing, and it helps to offset the salaries that aren't nearly as copious as the reading supply. So when publishing professionals buy books, it's a rare and powerful thing.
One friend of mine said she always buys a book for the airplane because books intended for reading while traveling are special. Books that she already owns: not good enough. The new book meant for the airplane ride is special. I started laughing because that is totally true for me, as well. I always end up buying a book right before I travel, even if I have a queue of several dozen books waiting for me.
Books read in transit are indeed a unique type of purchase, and I often go for the same type of book, too. When I travel, I want something that will sweep me away and absorb me into a unique community or location, or fascinate me with intense emotions or obstacles. When I'm on a plane, I often read scary things that I couldn't read anywhere else, because in the middle of a several-hours-long plane ride, it's reassuring for me to lift my head away from the book and confirm that yes, I'm still in a seat with a few hundred other people in a loud, beige airplane cabin, and we're all bored and quiet. Then, back into the mystery and mayhem I go. Airplanes, oddly, are one place I feel safe reading things that otherwise scare the poodle out of me.
I also have specific memories about particular books that I've read on long plane rides. On my way back from a Romantic Times convention several years ago, I read Dragon Actually by G.A. Aiken. Aiken's Dragon Kin series is book-length violent, campy dragon fairy tales with a ferocious female protagonist, sword fights, mayhem, bloody battles and mercilessly cruel villains. These are the violent female-warrior fairy tales you did not read as a child, and I don't always do well when reading about gore and bloodshed. I've said before, entrails are not my favorite thing to find in a romance.
But I loved this book, and the book after it, About a Dragon, and the next few books in the series, too. The violence was bearable in part because I was on a plane and would otherwise have been bored by the beige monotony, the engine drone and the dry air. Since I read all the scary stuff when I fly, this was perfect. They were absorbing, adventurous, scary and ferocious stories, and I loved every minute. I still associate that series with United (Sorry, Ms. Aiken. I know that's probably not the association you were looking for) and not wanting to get up and use the restroom because I'd have to stop reading.
I'm sure now you think I'm hopelessly weird for tying reading material to location so tightly, so I'm hoping I'm not entirely alone in this habit. Are there places that influence what specific types of books you read? Are there books you buy just for one particular experience? Which are they?
Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. She loves talking with romance readers, and hopes you'll share your new favorite romance reading recommendations. You can find her on Twitter @smartbitches, on Facebook, or on her couch, most likely with her eyeglasses turned towards a book.